Dorothy Rabe Ivanuck inducted into The Randolph Society

Dorothy Rabe Ivanuck and Senator Paul Simon

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that the Dorothy Rabe Ivanuck, a World War II veteran who devoted her life to waging a war on poverty in our local communities, will be inducted into the 2019 class of honorees.

Dorothy Ruth Rabe, born into a German-American family in Steeleville in 1923, was the daughter of Charles Henry Rabe and Emma Castens Rabe. With her elder brother, Charles, she spent her childhood attending Steeleville schools and worshiping at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. After graduating from Sparta High School in the early 1940s, she headed to St. Louis to attend business college. In the midst of World War II, she decided to abandon her studies in favor of serving her country, enlisting in the navy and becoming one of the country’s first female members of the Marine Corps.

During her time in the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, Dorothy was one of the many women who took on professional jobs in the branch, working in various procurement centers and serving as a clerk for her commanding officer at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. By the end of the war, she had been promoted to the rank of corporal. At St. Mark’s in the autumn of 1950, she married a fellow military officer: Captain Marion A. Ivanuck, who was serving in the Army Dental Corps. After Marion finished his military service, the family settled down in Dorothy’s native Steeleville, where they raised two daughters, Suzanne and Leslie.

Along with his dental practice, Marion served as Steeleville’s mayor for more than a decade. Both he and Dorothy were dedicated to public service. When a new antipoverty agency, the Western Egyptian Economic Opportunity Council, was formed in the 1960s, Dorothy was appointed as its first executive director. She focused the skills she had honed in the Marine Corps on a new war, this time on poverty in Randolph, Monroe, and Perry counties. The new agency administered a variety of programs, including Head Start, Operation Mainstream, the Neighborhood Youth Corps, and the Senior Nutrition Sites, all designed to enhance the quality of life of local citizens. Dorothy worked for decades to secure a diverse portfolio of grants and funding sources for the organization, ensuring that, even if one source of funding dried up, the agency would be able to continue providing services to the people who needed them most.

During her tenure, Western Egyptian established numerous programs to improve the lives of the people of Randolph County, including weatherization programs, food pantries and emergency voucher programs, legal clinics energy bill relief assistance programs, home rehabilitation services, specialized volunteer tax training, scholarships for college students, and even collection drives to provide local children with toys for Christmas. In 1993, as one of the worst floods in history ravaged Randolph and Monroe counties, Western Egyptian secured grant money to meet both immediate, live-saving needs and long-term recovery requirements for those who had lost everything to the rising river. All told, Dorothy raised millions of dollars over her four decades with Western Egyptian, providing the people of our area with crucial opportunities to improve themselves and their communities.

Dorothy received numerous honors and accolades during her long working life, which ended shortly before she died in 2004 in Chester. Her greatest tribute, however, is surely the continued existence of the Western Egyptian Economic Opportunity Council itself, which is still working to benefit the people of our area more than 50 years after it was originally founded.

Click here to read a more detailed biography of Dorothy Rabe Ivanuck.

Harry L. Hamilton inducted into The Randolph Society

Harry L. Hamilton

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Harry L. Hamilton, a talented novelist, playwright, and screenwriter, will be inducted into the 2019 class of honorees.

Harry Lacy Hamilton was born in Chester in 1896. His father, Harry Hamilton Sr., was a second-generation commercial fisherman who worked on the Mississippi, and his mother, Margaret Greenwalt, was descended from several established Chester families. The eldest of six children, Harry briefly moved with his family to Arkansas as a teenager, where his grandparents purchased a farm near the Missouri border. However, his father’s job working on the river ultimately kept the family in Randolph County, where Harry graduated from Chester High School in 1916. The same year, he was recognized by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission for the bravery he demonstrated when he helped save a friend from drowning in the Mississippi.

After serving in the army in World War I, Harry used his Carnegie prize money to enroll at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. A natural born storyteller, Harry studied drama in the College of Fine Arts, writing more than a dozen plays that were performed by his fellow students, including his roommate, the future film star and director Norman Foster. When Harry graduated in 1924, one local newspaper heralded him as the most “outstanding student-playwright produced by the institute during its history.”

Degree in hand, Harry moved south to Alabama, where he took a teaching job. He also became the director of the Little Theater in Montgomery, a role that allowed him to continue to write and produce his own plays. A collaboration with Norman Foster soon vaunted him to a new level of creative success. Their original play, Savage Rhythm, premiered on Broadway in 1932. Harry left Montgomery, establishing himself first in New York and then in California, where he continued to write plays and short stories. In 1936, he published his first novel, Banjo on My Knee, which was inspired by his childhood living along the Mississippi. Twentieth Century Fox soon purchased the film rights to the novel, adapting it as a movie starring Barbara Stanwyck, Joel McCrea, and Walter Brennan.

While working as a screenwriter for Paramount, MGM, and Republic Pictures, Harry also continued to write novels. He produced four more books during the course of his career: All Their Children Were Acrobats (1936), the story of a circus family; Watch Us Grow (1940), the tale of an Arkansas town along the Mississippi; River Song (1945), a sequel to Banjo on My Knee; and Thunder in the Wilderness (1949), a historical romance set in eighteenth-century Kaskaskia. Harry traveled the world during his writing career, but his success selling short stories and serials also enabled him to put down roots in the seaside city of Long Beach, where numerous members of his family eventually joined him. Following a Thanksgiving meal with friends and family at the home of a niece in 1975, he passed away at his home at the age of 79.

Just before his death, Harry was planning a trip to return to Chester to celebrate the bicentennial. He considered his childhood in Randolph County to have been one of the most formative experiences of his life: “I’ve always been glad I grew up in a small town like Chester. Kids in big cities miss many of the basics and associations which form your character.” Chester hasn’t forgotten Harry, either, celebrating his life in tributes and keeping a collection of all of his novels in the town’s public library so that local citizens can be inspired by the writer who dreamed his way from the Mississippi to Broadway and Hollywood.

Click here to read a more detailed biography of Harry L. Hamilton.

Nance Legins Costley inducted into The Randolph Society

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Nance Legins Costley, whose bravery and persistence in securing her freedom set precedent in Illinois law, will be inducted into the 2019 class of honorees.

Nance Legins, the daughter of African-American indentured servants who had been brought to Illinois from Louisiana, was born in Kaskaskia in late 1813. Nance’s parents were indentured to Thomas Cox, an ambitious local businessman and politician whose home in Kaskaskia also served as the headquarters of Illinois’s territorial government. Although she was born in a territory where slavery was nominally illegal, Nance was subject to Illinois’s complicated system of indentured servitude. Because her parents were bound to serve Thomas Cox, Nance was also legally considered his property.

When she was still a baby, Cox sold Nance, her parents, and her elder brother, Reuben, to another prominent Kaskaskian, William Morrison, who ran a mercantile empire that shipped goods up and down the Mississippi Valley. Shortly afterward, though, the Legins family was returned to the ownership of Cox, who ran a hotel in Kaskaskia. When Illinois became a state in 1818, Kaskaskia was its first capital, and Cox was elected to serve in the state legislature. When the capital moved to Vandalia the following year, Nance and her sister, Dice, moved with the Cox family to settle there. Because Cox was involved in politics, Nance was surrounded by conversations about legal matters of the day, including the question of slavery in the state.

The Cox family, along with Nance and Dice, settled in Springfield in the 1820s, where Cox secured a prominent position in the local land registry office. But Cox, who was an alcoholic, mishandled the office’s funds, as well as his personal finances, and to satisfy his creditors, his property was auctioned. That property included both Nance and Dice. In the only known public slave auction ever held in the state of Illinois, Nance and Dice were sold in Springfield in July 1827. When her new owner, Nathan Cromwell, asked if she would go live in his household, Nance, still in chains from the auction, defiantly told him that she would not.

Nance’s public refusal to accept her sale kicked off a series of legal challenges that eventually led to the Illinois State Supreme Court. In 1828, the court denied her claim, deciding that she was legally Cromwell’s property. After Cromwell sold her in Tazewell County in 1836, this time to an abolitionist, Nance resisted once more. Her new “owner,” David Bailey, refused to pay for her, arguing that she was a free person and could not be sold. When the case came before the state supreme court once more, Bailey’s friend, Abraham Lincoln, served as his attorney. Lincoln successfully argued that no one had been able to prove that Nance was legally owned by anyone. In July 1841, Judge Sidney Breese declared that Nance was free, stating decisively that “the sale of a free person is illegal.”

Nance married a free man of color, Benjamin Costley, in Pekin, and the couple had eight children, all of whom were free citizens. Near the end of her life, a Pekin city directory recognized Nance’s resilience: “She came here a chattel, with ‘no rights that a white man was bound to respect’ … and now, in her still vigorous old age, she sees her race disenthralled; the chains that bound them forever broken, their equality before the law everywhere recognized, and her children enjoying the elective franchise.” In her valiant struggle to realize her own freedom, Nance set important precedents that helped others become free, too – and helped inspire a future president as he developed his understanding of the need for emancipation for all.

Click here to read a more detailed biography of Nance Legins Costley.

Roger Wolff inducted into The Randolph Society

Roger Wolff in uniform with the Philadelphia Athletics

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Roger Wolff, the major league baseball pitcher whose knuckleball carried him to a twenty-win season with the Washington Senators, will be inducted into the 2019 class of honorees.

Roger, the second son of Leo and Eleanor Wolff, was born in Evansville in 1911. The Wolff family moved in 1922 to Chester, where Leo established Wolff’s Market, selling meat and groceries to the community. Roger and his elder brother, Omer, worked for their father at the store, and on their breaks they played catch outside the market.

As a teenager, Roger’s love for baseball grew into a passion. He discovered a talent for pitching, and after he added a knuckleball to his arsenal, he decided to pursue baseball as a career. He began playing in Red Bud with the St. Moran League, but he was quickly noticed by Cardinals business manager Branch Rickey and given a minor league contract. From 1930 until 1941, he played for numerous minor league teams all over the country, including the Davenport Blue Sox, the Denver Grizzlies, the Dayton Ducks, the Oklahoma City Indians, and the Cedar Rapids Raiders.

Roger returned to Chester each winter to work at the family store. In November 1939, he married Mary Rose Montroy in their hometown. That December, he signed a contract with the Williamsport Grays, a minor league affiliate of the Philadelphia Athletics. Mentorship by the Grays’ manager, Spencer Abbott, helped Roger develop his skills, and in September 1941, he finally got the call from the big leagues. He made his major league debut on September 20, 1941, starting for the Athletics in a game against the Washington Senators. A week later, he had a brush with history, when he nearly derailed Red Sox slugger Ted Williams in his quest to finish the season with a .400 batting average.

For the next two seasons, Roger was a reliable part of the Athletics rotation. In 1943, as many major leaguers went to war, Roger – who was classified 4-F by his local draft board – finished with a 10-15 record. He was traded in the off-season to the Washington Senators, who were building an entire rotation of knuckleballers in their quest to capture the American League pennant.

Injuries and illness took a toll on Roger during the 1944 season, but in 1945, he had the season of a lifetime. He finished with a 20-10 record and an incredible 2.12 ERA. He tossed a total of 250 innings during the season, including 21 complete games, and faced 1000 batters. His stellar season was recognized with a seventh place finish in the voting for the league’s Most Valuable Player. His performance was so good that nearly helped the Senators secure a trip to the World Series, though they fell just behind Detroit in the final league standings.

In 1946, Roger didn’t get the chance to repeat the success of the previous season. He was sidelined with a major injury to his back, suffered during a game against the Yankees on the Fourth of July. Doctors advised him not to pitch again, though he made a few more appearances with Washington. The following year he played for the Indians and the Pirates before leaving baseball to return to a quieter life in Chester, where he worked at Menard Penitentiary and served as manager to the prison’s baseball team, the Menard Cubs. He also served as vice-president of Chester’s very first Little League Program.

Roger died in Chester in 1994. Late in his life, Roger reflected on his time in baseball: “I really believe, everything considered, that I had a real successful career and life.” His perseverance through injury and disappointment, and the magnificent triumph he reached as a result, is an inspiration to baseball fans in Randolph County and across the nation.

Click here to read a more detailed biography of Roger Wolff.

Richmond Durfee and Samuel Crozier inducted into The Randolph Society

The Durfee & Crozier Store, ca. 1880s

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Richmond Durfee and Samuel Crozier, two of the founders of the town of Red Bud, will be inducted into the 2019 class of honorees.

Richmond Durfee, the grandson of a Revolutionary War veteran, was born in 1815 in Fall River, Massachusetts. With his parents and seven sisters, he moved as a teenager to southern Monroe County, where his father established a farm near the border with Randolph County. As a young man, Richmond was appointed postmaster at Prairieville. He soon began buying land of his own in both counties, and by the 1840s, he had established the first store in an area near Prairieville that he called “Red Bud.” He named the fledgling settlement after the flowering trees that surrounded his dry goods store — the first permanent mercantile establishment in the town, located on the southeast corner of present-day Main and Market Streets.

In the 1850s, Richmond expanded his business by taking on a partner: Samuel Crozier, the son of settlers who had migrated from Abbeville, South Carolina, to Randolph County in the early nineteenth century. Samuel, who was born in 1822, was the eldest of a large family, all of whom were born in Randolph County. His father had settled near Horse Prairie shortly after Samuel’s birth. In the Crozier family, Richmond found not only a business partner but also a spouse. He married Samuel’s younger sister, Caroline Lavinda Crozier, in 1844. The couple built a house not far from Richmond’s store. A year later, Samuel married Nancy Ross, and the two families grew as the Durfee and Crozier retail business expanded.

By 1855, Richmond and Samuel were ready to put down more permanent commercial roots in Red Bud. They built a brick store in the Greek Revival style on the northeast corner of Main and Market Streets. The Durfee & Crozier Store still stands today in Red Bud and is likely the oldest surviving building in town. In the 1970s, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places, along with the rest of the surrounding Red Bud Historic District. Business flourished right away, and the two men even began investing in a proposed railroad to help move goods directly to and from their store.

But in 1859, as their mercantile enterprise was thriving, Samuel died of consumption. Richmond carried on the business, first in Red Bud, and then in St. Louis, where he established a dry goods store near the construction site of the new Eads Bridge. Eventually, he settled his family in Jacksonville, Illinois, where he operated a store for a time with his eldest son, Eric, as his business partner. After Eric’s death in 1883, the family decided to seek out a warmer climate. Richmond built a spectacular Victorian farmhouse in Florence, California, in the Queen Anne style. It too is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it serves as an architectural and historical “resource of major local significance.”

Richmond Durfee died in California in 1897, but the commercial legacy that he and Samuel Crozier began in Red Bud continues to thrive today. Historians have noted that the partners, especially Richmond, have a very strong claim to be called founders of Red Bud. Their role in starting the town’s business community has been highlighted as “an interesting indicator of the town’s entire history: beginning as a store, Red Bud became and has remained the commercial center of the surrounding agricultural area.” Now a popular restaurant at the center of numerous thriving businesses, the Durfee & Crozier Store stands as a testament to the ingenuity and entrepreneurship of these early Red Bud citizens.

Click here to read a more detailed biography of Richmond Durfee and Samuel Crozier.

Gilbert and Emma Holmes inducted into The Randolph Society

Gilbert and Emma Holmes

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Gilbert Holmes and Emma Penny Holmes, educators who shaped the lives of countless local children, will be inducted into the 2018 class of honorees.

Gilbert Holmes, the son of a minister who had been born a slave, was born in Du Quoin in 1898. After the deaths of his parents, Gilbert worked as a laborer in an ice factory to help support his grandmother and brother, but by the late 1920s, he had enrolled at Southern Illinois Normal University (now SIUC). Gilbert studied to become a teacher and began his career in Coulterville’s public schools. In 1933, he was hired to teach at the Vernon School in Sparta. Staffed by black teachers and administrators, the school was opened in 1912 as part of an effort by Sparta’s African-American community to foster a positive educational environment for the town’s black children.

The same year that the Vernon School was opened, Emma Ophelia Penny was born in Sparta. The youngest of a large family, Emma was the daughter of a coal miner. She was educated in Sparta, and in 1930 she started studies at Southern Illinois Normal University. Both Gilbert and Emma demonstrated a talent for leadership at the university. Each served as president of the Dunbar Society, an organization founded in 1925 “in order to create a support network and provide entertainment opportunities” for African-American students at the university. Emma, who was a talented singer and musician, was also an active member of the Roland Hayes Club, a choral society for black students.

Gilbert and Emma married in Sparta in 1934. As their family expanded to include three children, Gilbert, John, and Beverly, both Gilbert and Emma also continued to be devoted to education. Emma began teaching at the Vernon School in 1936, alongside Gilbert, who became the school’s principal. They both worked at the school until Sparta closed the building in 1963 in an effort to fully integrate the district. After the school was shuttered, Gilbert chose to take on a new challenge, working as a counselor at SIU, but Emma continued teaching in the Sparta district until her retirement. Over her 30-year career, she taught in several district buildings, including the Vernon School, the Lincoln School, and Sparta Township School.

Gilbert and Emma worked tirelessly to establish and support professional networks that would improve the opportunities for local educators, often breaking barriers in the process. In 1957, Gilbert became the first African-American president of the Randolph County Educational Association. Emma served as president of the Beta Delta chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma, a society that promoting the professional growth of women in education. Throughout their lives, Gilbert and Emma especially championed their fellow black educators, keenly aware of the difference that they could make to their communities by challenging students to reach their potential.

Gilbert and Emma’s love for music also formed a central part of their educational lives. Gilbert played the violin and directed church choirs, while Emma gave piano lessons, taught music classes, and directed school choral groups. In 1971, she became a founding committee member of the Sparta Community Chorus.

Both Gilbert and Emma lived long, full lives, and after their deaths, the citizens of Sparta paid tribute to the educators by dedicating the Gilbert Holmes Community Park and establishing the Gilbert and Emma Holmes Scholarship Fund. Sparta is also completing a park on the site of the former Vernon School, which will once again be a place where the musical voices of Sparta’s children, the greatest legacy of the Holmes family, will be heard as they learn, play, and grow.

Click here to read a more detailed biography of Gilbert and Emma Holmes.

Charles Cole and Alice Cole inducted into The Randolph Society

Charles Briggs Cole and Alice Emily Cole

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Charles Briggs Cole and Alice Emily Cole, local philanthropists whose gifts helped shape the lives of the citizens of Chester, will be inducted into the 2018 class of honorees.

Charles Briggs Cole was born in Chester in 1845. He was the son and grandson of the founders of the local Cole Mill, which used the excellent agricultural crops produced in Randolph County to make several brands of commercial flour. After earning a degree in manufacturing from Harvard University in 1867, Charles returned to Chester to join the family’s business. Under the direction of Charles and his brothers, the H.C. Cole Milling Company became a dynamic, innovative part of Chester’s growing economy.

The Coles built modern infrastructure and acquired new, state-of-the-art technology to improve the firm, including one of the area’s first electric generators. Charles also became a major figure in the local railroad industry, serving as president and general manager of the Wabash, Chester & Western Railroad, which stretched across Randolph County. As a founding director of state and national milling associations, he provided resources to other members of his trade. His leadership also extended into public service, including a term as a member of the Illinois state legislature and a lengthy tenure on Chester’s school board.

In 1869, Charles married Laura Layman, a graduate of Almira College in Greenville. They had four children before her death in 1878. (Charles remarried in 1882; he and his second wife completed the family with a daughter.) Charles and Laura’s eldest daughter, Alice Emily Cole, was born in Chester in 1872; she would go on to become an important companion to her father in his philanthropic efforts. Like her father, Alice received an excellent education, attending the Lasell Seminary for Young Women in Massachusetts.

Near the end of his life, the love of learning that Charles shared with Alice inspired him to make a generous gift to the people of his hometown. In 1927, he financed the construction of a new, modern public library for the town. The Chester Herald-Tribune lauded the gift, declaring that a “city is fortunate indeed, which numbers among its citizens, a man who has a vision to build for the future that which will not pay dividends in dollars and cents, but in education, culture and progress.” The new library was scheduled to open in March 1928, but Charles died of a heart attack before the planned dedication ceremony. Instead, the first public event held in the new building was his funeral service. The library building celebrates its 90th birthday in 2018.

After her father’s death, Alice continued her father’s legacy of philanthropy, helping to complete the family’s library gift. Five years later, she made a major gift of her own, presenting more than 50 acres of land to the city of Chester. The new Cole Memorial Park was dedicated in 1936, and it has become an important part of the lives of the area’s people in the decades since, providing them with a place to play, exercise, and celebrate. Alice remained invested in the park project throughout her life, even serving on the municipal park board. She died in November 1962.

Decades after Charles Briggs Cole and Alice Emily Cole shared their riches with the citizens of Chester, the people of Randolph County continue to benefit from their generosity. For the Coles, charitable giving was a cornerstone of their family business. A profile of Cole relatives in Alton summed up the family’s philosophy nicely: “privilege carries responsibility, and philanthropy is its own reward.” Charles and Alice lived these ideals by kindly sharing their own prosperity, giving the people of Randolph County the opportunity to enjoy successes of their own.


Click here to read a more detailed biography of Charles Cole and Alice Cole.

James Thompson inducted into The Randolph Society

James and Margaret Thompson

Honoring the celebration of the Illinois Bicentennial, the Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that James Thompson, judge, educator, and pioneering surveyor, will be inducted into the 2018 class of honorees.

James Thompson was born in South Carolina in 1789. He arrived in Randolph County, Illinois, with his brother, Samuel, in 1814. The brothers settled in Kaskaskia, where James worked as a teacher for three years. In 1817, he and his wife, Margaret, settled on a farm in Preston, near the center of the county, where they raised twelve children.

James’s reputation as a reliable, responsible citizen – and as a capable surveyor – quickly led him to a career of public service. In 1820, he was named as a county commissioner, and during his year in that office he enumerated the federal and state censuses for Randolph County. The next year, he began working for the United States Surveying Service, a role he held for more than two decades. He served several terms as a county surveyor; he was also the county’s probate judge from 1831 until 1848, and in 1832, he served as a captain during the Black Hawk War.

Precise, accurate surveying became one of James’s most recognized skills. He surveyed and platted important early county roads, including one linking Kaskaskia and Vandalia, the state’s first and second capitals. He helped establish an official boundary between Randolph and Monroe Counties, and he surveyed and platted numerous local towns, including Chester, Sparta, Steeleville, and Rockwood. One historian noted that “whenever the name of James Thompson is mentioned, the idea of surveying is suggested. His foot has probably made its impress upon every section of land in Randolph County.”

James’s most famous surveying work, however, was done in the summer of 1830. He was hired by the Illinois and Michigan Canal Commission to survey towns at either end of their proposed canal, which was to stretch from Lake Michigan to the Illinois River. After completing a plat map of the town of Ottawa, James and his crew traveled to Fort Dearborn on the shores of Lake Michigan. On August 4, 1830, he completed the very first plat map of the city of Chicago. He named several of the new streets of Chicago after counties in Southern Illinois, including Jefferson, Washington, Madison, and Clinton Streets. And, of course, Randolph Street was named for Randolph County, Illinois.

At the time, there were only 32 registered voters living in the area around present-day Chicago. After the plat was completed, James left Chicago, which was still merely “Lake Michigan howling on one side and prairie wolves on the other,” to return to Randolph County. He turned down the canal commission’s compensation offer of several acres of property in the newly-platted town, preferring instead to take $300 for his work.

When James died in 1872, newspapers in Chicago recognized him as one of the city’s founders in their obituaries. Half a century after his burial in the Preston Cemetery, the people of Chicago installed a new monument at his gravesite. The marker was a fitting tribute, honoring the person that the Chicago Tribune once called an “unquestionable and identifiable founder” of the city of Chicago. The city still celebrates the date on James’s completed plat as an important anniversary. The grave marker, however, has since fallen into disrepair, and a restoration project would be an appropriate memorial to a person who helped create and connect Illinois’s communities. But his greatest monuments are undoubtedly the communities themselves. As one Chicago reporter put it, “James Thompson has another monument, a really spectacular one. If you wish to see it, stand anywhere along the main branch of the Chicago River, and look about you.”

Click here to read a more detailed biography of James Thompson.

Elzie Segar inducted into The Randolph Society

Elzie Segar and his children

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Elzie Segar, the pioneering cartoonist who created Popeye, will be inducted into the 2018 class of honorees.

Elzie Crisler Segar was born in Chester in 1894. He was the youngest son of Amzi Segar, a local house painter. His early jobs included work at Chester’s Opera House, where he played drums to accompany silent films, ran the movie projector, and drew cartoon slides to play between reels. Early encouragement from the theater’s owner, Bill Schuchert, helped him complete a correspondence course in cartooning.

Elzie’s earliest professional work came in Chicago, where he worked for two newspapers in the midst of World War I. One of his unusual early assignments involved drawing comic-style highlights of the games during the infamous 1919 World Series. His work gained the attention of King Features Syndicates, a company producing and syndicating comic content to papers all over the country. He and his wife, Myrtle, moved to New York, where he developed his most famous comic strip, Thimble Theatre, for the company. Several of the characters in the strip, including Olive Oyl and Wimpy, were inspired by residents of Chester.

As Elzie’s cartooning career continued to flourish, he and his young family moved to California, settling in Santa Monica. In 1929, an unexpected inspiration took his comic strip to new heights of popularity. While developing a new storyline for Thimble Theatre, he dreamed up a sailor character based on a Chester man, Rocky Feigle. The supporting character, Popeye, soon became one of the most popular parts of the comic strip, and readers clamored for more. Popeye was soon the leading character of the strip, and Olive Oyl was his new sweetheart. The success of Popeye meant increased syndication for Thimble Theatre, and even in the middle of the Depression, Elzie became a wealthy man.

Unfortunately, less than a decade after dreaming up his most famous creation, Elzie died in California after a lengthy illness. He was only 43 years old. Popeye and the rest of the Thimble Theatre gang have lived on through the work of other cartoonists, and new Popeye strips are still being published every Sunday. Popeye and his friends have been featured in numerous television shows, films, games, and marketing campaigns. Memorials to Elzie’s work are found all over the country, but nowhere is he celebrated more than in his native Chester. The town’s annual Popeye Parade is a local fixture, and tourists can now also visit the Popeye & Friends Character Trail, a series of character statues placed near various Chester businesses and landmarks.

It’s particularly appropriate that Elzie’s characters remain his greatest legacy. For Elzie, Popeye and his friends were beloved companions, as real as any of the people in his life. One obituary notes that Elzie “lived with his characters, and talked about them as he would about any near acquaintance. He insisted that he could not manipulate his characters, but ‘just let them do what they wanted to do.'” The life that he breathed into those madcap creations, generated simply by paper, pencil, and the power of the artistic mind, continues to provide joy and laughter to countless people both around the world and in his hometown today.

Click here to read a more detailed biography of Elzie Segar.


George Khoury inducted into The Randolph Society

George M. Khoury

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that George Khoury, philanthropist and founder of the George Khoury Association of Baseball Leagues, will be inducted into the 2018 class of honorees.

The son of Lebanese immigrants, George Khoury was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1900. After a childhood spent near the city’s riverfront, George moved as a teenager with his parents and seven siblings to Coulterville, Illinois, where his parents purchased a family farm. He attended school in Coulterville and did apprentice work with a local printer.

After moving back to St. Louis and marrying Dorothy Smith in the early 1920s, George began working with various business enterprises and ventures. With three young sons to support, the Great Depression’s impact on George’s financial life was nearly ruinous, but the printing skills he had learned in Coulterville helped to sustain him and his family. As the Khourys fortunes improved, they looked to share their prosperity with their sons’ friends, starting a small baseball team of local boys. The small baseball team blossomed, and by 1936, George started the Khoury League, a baseball program for the young boys of St. Louis.

With support from the community, and encouraged by the owners of the St. Louis Cardinals and St. Louis Browns, the Khoury League grew into one of the largest youth baseball programs in the area. George was committed to keeping the program accessible to any boy who wanted to play, regardless of talent level, even waiving entry fees for those who couldn’t afford them. He was focused on giving the youth of St. Louis an outlet to channel their energy in a positive way, learning good sportsmanship, responsibility, and organizational skills. Although the Khoury League emphasized that children of all talent levels could play, the organization’s alumni include several Major League Baseball stars, including Mike Shannon, Earl Weaver, Dal Maxvill, Frank Baumann, and Homer Bush.

The Khoury League became an important community program for the youth that played on the teams as well as the volunteer adults who managed clubs and officiated at games. In the 1950s, the program expanded to include a girls’ softball program and added new sports, like soccer. In 1952, Randolph County’s first Khoury League teams were organized in Sparta, and teams quickly joined throughout the county. Five years later, George was honored during a Khoury League game in his childhood home of Coulterville with a special plaque recognizing his achievements.

Eventually, the Khoury League expanded to include programs in several states and even foreign nations. George was chosen in 1960 by the United States Committee for Baseball in Israel to travel throughout the nation, sharing information with Israelis to help them form their own baseball programs using the Khoury League as a model. George’s work at home and abroad earned him the admiration of many, including President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who wrote, “I understand that nearly a whole generation of boys has grown up in the fine program of your baseball leagues. They have been strengthened in body and spirit and you have the rich satisfaction of knowing that you have contributed much to the fitness of American youth.”

After George’s death, the Khoury League tradition was continued by his sons and numerous other committed men and women, and it remains an important youth sports program in the United States and abroad. In 1967, one St. Louis sportswriter paid tribute to George’s work, noting that the “monument to the man is in the vibrant, living program he founded and headed” – an organization that continues to thrive and to improve the lives of children today.

Click here to read a more detailed biography of George Khoury.